I guarantee this high school senior's a better driver than you.
A new digital magazine called Summerhouse is launching soon, and is dedicated to covering do-it-yourself and underground arts, music and literary scenes in Washington, D.C. But what does it mean to create underground culture today? We discuss that with zine makers, journalists and musicians, and we explore how underground scenes can thrive in a constantly changing region.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. A new digital magazine called Summerhouse is launching soon, and is dedicated to covering the do-it-yourself and underground arts, music and literary scenes in D.C. But what does it mean to create underground culture today, and how can these scenes thrive in a constantly changing region?
KOJO NNAMDIToday, we're exploring the world of zines, house shows, radio and art of all kinds in surprising spaces, and other elements of do-it-yourself and underground culture in Washington. We'd love to have you join the conversation. Are you an artist, zine maker or musician? How do you get your work out there? Joining me in studio is Michelle Delgado. She's a freelance writer, founder and editor of Summerhouse, a new digital magazine. Michelle, thank you for joining us.
MICHELLE DELGADOThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Teta Alim, a freelance writer and music journalist, founder and editor-in-chief of Buahzine. Teta, thank you for joining us.
TETA ALIMThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Tamei Elliott, aka DJ Tomiyeyo. She is a DJ, STEAM enthusiast and artist manager, creator of the “Occupying Space” radio show. Tamei, thank you for joining us.
TAMEI ELLIOTTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIMichelle, I'll start with you. You are set to release the first issue of Summerhouse, an online magazine covering underground and D.I.Y. culture in D.C. Tell us about the idea behind Summerhouse, and what do you plan to highlight in it?
DELGADOYeah. So, Summerhouse started because I had moved to D.C. about four years ago, and I was just kind of searching for everything that I love. So, I've been collecting zines for a long time, I love going to concerts, and I was really just trying to find my community and find a space where I felt at home in D.C. And as I started meeting people and forming relationships, the journalist in me kicked in, and I realized that I wanted to be telling all these incredible stories and sharing them with people.
DELGADOAnd so, little by little, I started talking to people about the project, and it grew into this online magazine. We're publishing 10 stories, all about just really surprising spaces in D.C. Like, I didn't realize that there was a thriving tarot scene in the city. There's music, there's art, there's publishing. There's really anything you can imagine is here, but D.C. doesn't have a reputation for having these incredible things. So, my hope is that by telling these stories, we'll help people realize how much there is in the city.
NNAMDIMore broadly speaking, what do you mean by underground and D.I.Y. culture?
DELGADOYeah. So, I take a really broad view. It's not just music or art that we're covering. We're covering just really anything that people are putting together on their own. They might not be doing it at a venue or a traditional publisher or, you know, kind of a traditional channel that people have to go through where there's a gatekeeper saying, you know, you're allowed to do this or you're allowed to take up space.
DELGADOSo, yeah, and when it comes to underground some of the people are highlighting, they actually can practice their art openly. You know, maybe they're a burlesque dancer and their job would be really unhappy if they knew that this employee was dancing in front of people.
DELGADOSo, you know, it's just a really -- I think it's really courageous when people practice their art, even if there are people telling them, you know, why are you doing that, or I'm not okay with it, or whatever. You know, people have something they want to express, and that's the kind of thing we're really interested in highlighting. So, we're not always using people's full names, we're not always using photos of them. We want to protect them as much as possible while helping people celebrate their art.
NNAMDITeta Alim, I'll start with you, and then onto Tamei. But how do you define underground and D.I.Y. culture?
ALIMI really think about community when it comes to underground and D.I.Y. culture. I came to D.C. in 2012 for school, and then stayed for work. And during that time I got to meet a lot of great artists, a lot of really creative people. And I think it's that sense of community that really got me interested in wanting to create my own things, especially seeing other, like, women and non-binary folks creating. I think that really inspired and pushed me to be, like, oh, like, this is something that I can definitely do. I don't have to wait until I have, like, this perfect finished product. I should just start creating.
ELLIOTTYeah, so I came to D.C. as a DJ, and I started playing for a lot of my friends who are artists. And we grew up in the Union Art Space that was on New York Avenue. And it was so sad to see that space go. And to see a space where they allowed just random people, people who are creative, to come together to perform and to create vibrations that could last in that space forever. And I feel like even though that space no longer exists, those vibrations that emitted from that space and the people that were in that space still exist.
NNAMDIUnderground has another connotation of being on the run, (laugh) using false identities and fake names to evade capture. You mentioned that that definition factors into what you mean by underground in your magazine, somehow.
DELGADOYeah, I'm trying to think. I don't think we have anyone who's actually on the run from anything. (laugh) But, you know, for example to go back to our story about tarot, you know, that's someone who is actually a lawyer. And it's just tarot, you know, in particular, occupies this really interesting space where it's a spiritual practice, but it's not accepted as a religion in the way that, you know, other religions are protected.
DELGADOAnd so what do you do in that situation? You feel really strongly about something, you have a creative talent you want to share with people. You want to create space for people to, you know, explore this art form and this culture. But your job is, you know, maybe not okay with it.
DELGADOSo, I think people in those situations, they get really creative. And here, it's not a place where it's easy to be a fulltime artist or be a fulltime working artist. A lot of people have to have a day job, because it's so expensive to live here. So, I think that kind of problem-solving comes into play, and it shapes the culture here in a really interesting way.
NNAMDIAnd it's an identity you may simply not want to share on your job, (laugh) but that's another story. Tamei, up until pretty recently, the Washington region was not necessarily seen by many people around the nation as a place with a strong hip-hop scene. But that seems to be changing, as more local rappers are getting wider exposure. Do you think that there is more great hip-hop in this region now, or that there always was, and the rest of the world is just catching up?
ELLIOTTI think there always was a great hip-hop scene in the D.C. area. And I think now, the world is definitely catching up to it. I currently manage an artist, Odd Mojo, and through my experiences with her, we've been able to cultivate a group of rappers and hip-hop artists in the scene. And through that, we've been able to understand that this presence has always been here. I think maybe the opportunities weren't always there. Maybe the world has not seen D.C. as a hip-hop scene, so they never really took a look at it.
ELLIOTTBut through working together with other artists, cultivating these spaces so that hip-hop artists can thrive and continue to be shown in a light that they deserve is something that I really look towards for Occupying Space.
NNAMDIYeah, because when Wale first kind of blew up here, that was, like, it as far as a lot of people were concerned. And over the past year, through this broadcast, we've been finding a lot of other really promising and talented hip-hop artists in the region, many of whom incorporate go-go into their hip-hop work in this region. Teta, you have written a lot about music scenes in the Washington region. How did you get into writing about music?
ALIMWell, it started off just seeing, I guess, independent artists in shows. So, actually, Odd Mojo, I saw her in this kind of like a house show setting. It was called the Commune. It's no longer there but it was a space in DuPont Circle. And I saw Odd Mojo, and I thought, like wow, like, she's really good. And, like, the audience was really, like, reacting to her. And it was just -- for me, it was just, like, getting deeper and deeper into the layer of D.C. that I think most people, like, don't really think about, even though it's there. And it's always been there.
ALIMSo, yeah, you mentioned Wale, but, like, it goes, like, all the way back, right, from like the '80s. And, like, yeah, so D.C. has always had kind of this music scene, but it's just taken awhile, I guess, for the rest of the country to catch up.
NNAMDIAs a music journalist, how have you seen the local music scene develop and change over the years that you've been writing about it?
ALIMI think I'm seeing -- the changes that I'm seeing, I'm seeing more people, I guess, maybe emerge. Like, there's more and more people, I think, who feel like they have a space to come out and have their voice and have their stories. So, it's been really interesting to see, like, more artists emerge. And definitely, like, seeing more women in music emerge, I think, has been really great, you know.
NNAMDIGreg called in, but he couldn't stay on the line, but he said, D.C. has a vibrant D.I.Y. history, especially with indie music. He's long been a fan of Dischord Records and going to local band showcases. Has that been your experience, Tamei?
ELLIOTTYes. Like I said before, I really loved the Union Art Space, again, because it was such a D.I.Y. space. And you would never know who you would see. And it would be the most talented people that you would've ever heard in your whole life. So, it was a really cool space.
ELLIOTTAnd I think there are other spaces out there, and there's a lot of different groups and band members. There's this new group, it's called Black Folks Don't Swim. They're a really great band, and they've come together (laugh) -- I love their name, but there's (laugh) -- but they came together for different reasons.
ELLIOTTAnd one of the things that I've noticed is that even though there's these various D.I.Y. spaces, they close down, and then -- you see an emerging of artists, and then the space closes down, and you see kind of, like, that go away. And then another space opens up and then it kind of comes back. So, I feel like there's no space where it's been able to be continuous. I feel like it kind of goes up and down. And that's why I think maybe the reason why a lot of people don't see D.C. as a space where that scene thrives, because it kind of goes up and down. And a lot of people come in and out of D.C. so much.
NNAMDIHere is Adam in Winchester, Virginia. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADAMHello. My name's Adam. I'm an artist, performing and creative. I like to paint on the streets, and I have, like, an art cart and an operation. I'll teach kids to juggle and teach people to sight line. And I get hassled out here in Winchester, so I have to come all the way down to the Georgetown Waterfront. And everything was great, but now, someone may be complaining, and they've been hassling me there.
ADAMSo, I can't afford to live in D.C. as an artist, but now I can't even, you know, do what I do on the street. And I'm not really doing it for financial gain. It's more of just how I like to -- where I get my creative energy. And I, like, you know, bring it to the folks.
NNAMDIWell, Michelle, our caller Adam sounds like a perfect candidate to participate in both the D.I.Y. and underground music scene here -- I mean, underground art scene here.
DELGADOYeah. And this is the kind of situation I'm really interested in. And there are a lot of people whose art doesn't fit neatly into, you know, oh, I would perform on a bill with other musicians or, you know, oh, I'm going to self-publish a book, or something like that. There are these sort of like spaces that are in between, where you're doing a little bit of visual art. You're doing a little bit of performance. There might be some music incorporated. Maybe at one point you want to put out a zine of your poetry, or something like that. And you're occupying this sort of intermediate space. And that's a big reason why I started Summerhouse.
DELGADOAs a journalist, I love writing about arts like this. And it's hard to think about how to pitch a story like that. Like, do you pitch the music editor? Do you, you know, pitch a local place? Do you pitch the Washington Post? Who will take a story like this? And so Summerhouse is really a home for these sort of stories that just don't fit into a box very easily, and yet they have these really important themes. Like, yeah, if you can't find a venue to perform, does that mean art doesn't get to exist here? I hope not. That would make me really sad.
NNAMDIAdam, it sounds like you're a candidate for a Summerhouse profile, but thank you (laugh) very much for your call, and good luck to you. You, too, can give us a call, 800-433-8850. What do you think artists and musicians need to maintain a thriving local scene? 800-433-8850. Tamei, there's been a lot of focus on go-go lately with the Don't Mute D.C. movement. Are there other kinds of dance music that you think of as being distinctive to this region, generally?
ELLIOTTYes. I'm a big fan of Baltimore club music.
NNAMDIAs in our producer, Mark Gunnery.
ELLIOTTYes. I had a whole conversation with him about it. (laugh)
NNAMDIProbably lasted hours.
ELLIOTTYes. (laugh) But I'm really interested on the reasoning behind a certain sound in regions. Like, for, say, why is the Northern-type of sound more faster paced and Southern music's more slower paced? So, one of the things that I'm interested in the future and, like, investigating and researching is the reasoning behind club music, in general, in Baltimore. Because Baltimore club music has influenced other types of club music around the world, or around the East Coast, mainly.
ELLIOTTAnd just understanding, does it have something to do with what's happened in the region, and through that experience, has that cultivated a certain sound or vibration that needs to resonate with that space? But I believe that Baltimore club music definitely has influenced this area a lot, especially in the dance scene. Like, I talk to a lot of people about, like, D.C. versus Baltimore. I find that...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Big beef. Big, big beef.
ELLIOTTI know, and I don't know why it exists. Through “Occupying Space,” I try to bring both sides together, because I don't understand why that exists. But one of the things that I see is the biggest difference is, in Baltimore, people dance. In D.C., people don't really dance, here. They kind of like have a weird sway, or something really odd. But I see the expression through dance really happening in Baltimore. That's something that I really respect in that scene.
NNAMDIAnd that probably has a lot to do with the pace of Baltimore club music, you think?
ELLIOTTMm-hmm. I think it does, definitely. It's a lot more faster.
NNAMDIYou also host a radio show in an unconventional place, a local hotel. Tell us about your radio show, Occupying Space. What's the idea behind it? How did it get its name, and how did you end up making radio in a hotel?
ELLIOTTI didn't even -- like, if you would've asked me where I would be now, I would never expect myself to be in radio. It was kind of something that I was just going to try. I like to put myself in very uncomfortable situations and try to see how I can get out of it, and whatever happens, happens. And that's kind of how I got to that space.
ELLIOTTBut Occupying Space was inspired for my love of music and science. I have a science background, so with “Occupying Space,” we like to find -- and we like to explore the intersectionality between music and science. And that's through various workshops outside of the radio that I do with the youth, which is something that I'm really big on working with.
ELLIOTTBut it ultimately came from this article by a professor, Gayle Wald at American -- not American University. I'm drawing a blank. A university in D.C. that I'll come back to, but she wrote an article called "Soul Vibrations." And, through that, she talked about Marion Anderson's performance at The National Mall. And then she also talked about Ellis Haizlip...
NNAMDIEllis Haizlip, yes.
ELLIOTT...Ellis Haizlip, yes, correct, and his “Soul at the Center” in New York's Lincoln Center. And she talked about, like, black bodies and being in spaces that are unconventional, or that are in spaces that aren't necessarily given. And she talked about how for Marion's experience that even though she was in a space that was very vast and big -- obviously, it was The National Mall -- she kind of challenged the notion of racism and other things that were very oppressive to black people during that time by just being a voice and emitting vibrations out through that space. And her whole argument was that even though that was in, I think, 1939, that those vibrations still exist in that space. And through those vibrations, they've given other people of color the opportunity to occupy that space.
ELLIOTTAnd through going through that article -- which is a very good article that I think everybody should read -- I kind of came to the notion of “Occupying Space.” And that's something that I try to give a lot of people, especially underground artists, because as a DJ in this scene, I find kind of there's, like, glass ceilings for certain things. So, I was, like, instead of trying to reach out to people, why not create a space where we can all occupy and do things that we love?
NNAMDIWell, of course, the story of Marion Anderson, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is that Marion Anderson was invited by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to perform here in Washington at the DAR Constitution Hall. But the Daughters of the American Revolution, being racist, decided that she could not perform at Constitution Hall. And so, instead, she performed at the Lincoln Memorial and, in many respects, made history. And, of course, Ellis Haizlip was the host of a great television show on PBS for many years called “SOUL.” I used to watch that. That tells you my age, right there.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Are you an artist? Are you a zine maker? Are you a musician? How do you get your work exposed in this region? Give us a call. Teta Alim, you've also made radio in D.C., on campus, right here at American University. What do you think about local radio in the Washington region? Are there opportunities for making underground or D.I.Y. radio here?
ALIMI think so. There's a lot of spaces, and now, I guess, with like the new hotels, that they also have kind of like in-house radio happening there, as well. But, yeah, I think there's a lot of opportunities. I think there's some local stations, as well, and I'm drawing a blank on their call numbers. But I had a friend that also had like an independent radio station. But, yeah, there are definitely a lot of opportunities, I think. It's just a matter of finding them and kind of like combing through and doing your research to do it.
NNAMDII'm familiar with all of the names of those small, independent radio stations in D.C., (laugh) because I listen to them. But I'm not about to name them on these airwaves. (laugh) Here is Greg in Reston, Virginia. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GREGHey, Kojo, thanks for having me on. I was the caller earlier who mentioned Dischord Records, but I couldn't stay on the line. But I had an extra minute to call in. I think, you know, in D.C. -- and I'm a longtime resident of the D.C. area and, you know, it does have such a rich underground and D.I.Y. history. And, you know, Dischord Records and the involvement that the MacKaye family has had is really, you know, testament to that.
GREGYou know, I think two things really kind of need to exist for the underground movement to thrive and that's community involvement and accessibility and just making things available for, you know, all ages and people to get exposed to new ideas and new kinds of music and art. Fort Reno is a really good example. They have a summer series that Amanda MacKaye puts on, like, I think it's every Monday and Thursday through the summer. And you get exposed to tons of different kinds of bands and music.
GREGAnd people come out, and it's family-friendly. And everybody's really supportive, even if it's not really the kind of things they like. And I think that those kinds of things really lend themselves to a positive growth of, like, an underground scene here.
NNAMDIYes, indeed, they do. And, as you pointed out, and as our guests have been pointing out, that scene goes back way back, to even before the '80s, as a matter of fact. So, Greg, thank you for taking the time to call in.
GREGThank you. Great segment. Appreciate it.
NNAMDIGot a tweet from Steela, who says: your guest who's interested in Baltimore club music should check out the International Booty Tech and Ghetto Tech House music movement from a few years ago, in the late 2000s.
ELLIOTTI'm actually very familiar with that type of music. (laugh) Thanks for the reminder.
NNAMDISee what I mean? They're up on everything. We're going to take a short break. When we come back. we'll continue this conversation on D.I.Y., underground and do-it-yourself culture in the Washington region. But you can still join the conversation with a phone call, 800-433-8850. or with a tweet @kojoshow. or email to email@example.com. Do you have favorite spaces to hear music or see art in Washington that are outside of conventional venues and gallery spaces? Holler back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about D.I.Y., underground and do-it-yourself culture in the Washington region with Michelle Delgado. She's a freelance writer, founder and editor of Summerhouse, which is a new digital magazine. Teta Alim is a freelance writer and music journalist and founder and editor-in-chief of Buahzine. And Tamei Elliott, aka DJ Tomiyeyo, is a DJ, STEAM enthusiast and artist manager and creator of the “Occupying Space” radio show.
NNAMDITamei, the Occupying Space radio show, we talked about your interest in struggles over space when you used the Marion Anderson example, but as an artist, what does it take for you to feel welcome and open in a space?
ELLIOTTFor me, it's physical, like stepping into a room and physically feeling welcomed. And the current space I'm in at the (word?) Hotel definitely fits that picture. I've been in a lot of spaces where I felt like there's been a struggle over the space, and I fought it as long as I could. And then, at that moment, I was like, okay, I'm ready to move on. So, I kind of have this maneuver-and-move-on mentality with a lot of things that I face here.
ELLIOTTAnd, also, the stride to keep on doing what I love and understanding my why for what I love, which is music, is healing for me. So, going back to that why and understanding that really helps me get through those moments where I feel like there is a struggle over a space.
NNAMDIHere's Chad, in Washington, D.C. Chad, your turn.
CHADHello. My name's Chad. I play guitar for the D.C. rock band Stone Driver. And I called in to share about an opportunity that D.C. musicians are taking advantage of called Crossover TV, where it's a YouTube series founded by Avik Ray that takes place at Seven Drum City. And, basically, what it does is it gets different D.C. music artists together to collaborate over three songs on their program, which they videotape and then publish on their YouTube channel.
CHADAnd it's amazing, because I'm driving to it right now. We're performing at 1:30. I heard your show, (laugh) and thought I'd get a chance to call in.
CHADBut the experience has been amazing, as far as who we've been able to work with, musically, for it, and just try to come up with something unique together.
NNAMDIHey, well, thank you for sharing that with us, Chad. We've all taken copious notes, so thank you very much (laugh) for that. On now to Ralph, in Fairfax. Ralph, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RALPHHow's it going, Kojo? I just wanted to talk about my experience as an artist in this DMV area. I go by RTC. I was actually on NPR, once upon a time, talking about my music. And I really come to realize for me to get out there or for my music to really be heard as somebody from this area, you know, you really have to throw that social media push in there, throw those hashtags. Like, hashtag D.C., hashtag DMV, because people are always looking for those tags.
RALPHThey love this area. Even if you're not from the United States, people are always talking about D.C., it's the capital. And when they see your music tagged with that, they see the hip-hop that's alive in this area. And I think mostly the artists are still underground, but the more I started using these hashtags and putting it out on social media, you know, I've noticed my music going further and getting a lot more plays.
NNAMDIIt's a lot different image than D.C. used to have, oh, three or four decades ago. (laugh) So, very cool. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. Michelle, something that you said that drew you into local D.I.Y. culture were house shows. What is a house show, and what makes it feel different from seeing a concert in a more conventional venue?
DELGADOYeah, so, a house show, which I think we've all mentioned at this point, it's a concert that happens in someone's home. So, you might go to a stranger's apartment, maybe it's your friend's apartment, it could be in a backyard. But it's not happening in a ticketed, traditional venue. You know, you're not going to the 9:30 Club. And so when you walk in, you're already in a comfortable setting, where someone lives. You know, there's not a stage, there's not a division between the band and, you know, the audience. And so you get this incredibly intimate experience.
DELGADOAnd there are a lot of, you know, plus sides to that. The boundary between the performer and audience breaks down really quickly. And, you know, you see unexpected things, you know. Someone might have dishes in their sink. You know, you might wander into a bedroom by accident, and you get a little glimpse of how other people around you live in a way that's really intimate that you wouldn't necessarily see if you just went to work and went home or hung out with your same group of friends.
DELGADOYou know, there's also downsides to it. Sometimes security's an issue. Sometimes, you know, you don't have a bartender to keep an eye on things.
NNAMDISometimes there's dirty dishes in the sink. (laugh)
DELGADOYeah. So, there's pros and cons. I mean, but I think there's, like, a lot to love about that scene. And it lets -- I mean, if people want to perform, it breaks down a lot of barriers. You don't have to convince a club to let you be in that space. You know, maybe someone is willing to host you, and you get in front of an audience. It's really powerful.
NNAMDITeta, as a music journalist covering local scenes, what kind of role do you think house shows play in underground music here?
ALIMWow. I think, as like Michelle had mentioned, it really is, like, a space where, like, if these, like, traditional or quote-unquote, like, "mainstream venues" are not having you as an artist, like, this is a chance for you as an artist to kind of, like, approach listeners at your level, like, so that people are coming to you at your level rather than, like -- I don't know, like, being locked out of the space that doesn't really want you.
ALIMSo, yeah, I don't know if that makes sense, (laugh) but it's just I really appreciate house shows because, like, you're really getting, like, the vibe of the artist, like, right there. And, you know, you're close and you can see, like, there's so many different ways to listen to music. And one of them is, like, the physical aspect of listening to music, just feeling that, like, bass hit you in your heart. Like, (laugh) that is just -- I think that's also a valuable experience, you know, versus just, like, streaming something online.
NNAMDITamei, you're a DJ, and you perform throughout the region. What are your favorite kinds of spaces to perform in and around D.C.?
ELLIOTTMy favorite spaces by name, or just like the vibe, in general?
NNAMDIBy name, or just the vibe.
ELLIOTTThere's a lot. Again, my favorite was Union Arts, just because I got my DJ roots in that space. A lot of other spaces are just in random friends' houses (laugh) in the D.C. area. But that's been -- it doesn't happen as often because of a lot of issues with the sound ordinances and issues like that. Back in the day, it was a lot more prevalent to see more house parties. Now, they're actually in physical buildings and, like, actual venue spaces.
ELLIOTTOutside of that, I love performing in Baltimore, as well. The Crown is one of my favorite -- it's actually one of my favorite places in the DMV, to be honest, to DJ. Just because people dance, which is a really big, important thing for DJs, because I feed off the energy of the people in the room. Yeah.
NNAMDIAll right. Here, now, is Rose in Washington. Rose, your turn.
ROSEHey, Kojo. Can you hear me?
ROSECool. It's such an honor to talk to you, and thank you so much for centering artists so much in your conversation. I just had a quick comment. I'm an artist, actually born and raised here in D.C. And I feel like a lot of my kind of rise in my career was through D.I.Y. art spaces. I had a studio at Union Arts for a while and was such a big fan of that art community, and really feel like that was amazing. We had a lot of shows in that space.
ROSEAnd there's a lot of other D.I.Y. spaces that I showed at, that I feel like I got a lot of notoriety from. And then I decided to open up. When I had my studio, I dedicated a wall to local artists. And now I have a new (word?) space, and I'm trying to do the same thing. And I recently just had a show of an amazing local artist that I'd never had the opportunity to show.
ROSEAnd I think that I'm kind of not only giving back as an artist in D.C. that cares so passionately about the scene, but really, I think that sometimes the gallery scene feels like a big jump from not having shown anywhere to being in the gallery scene. And I think that those D.I.Y. spaces are really critical for emerging artists, to get people showing their work and grow their audiences. So, I feel like I'm trying to do my own part as a D.C. artist to kind of show all the incredible talent that's here in D.C. And I hope to keep doing that.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. One of the other issues that we have here in D.C. having to do with music is gentrification. First you, Tamei, and then Michelle, how do you think the gentrification of D.C. is shaping the musical culture here, especially when it comes to finding space to perform and space to practice?
ELLIOTTSure. So, whenever I think about gentrification -- and so I went to Howard University so I was around that area, like U Street and Georgia Avenue. And I remember seeing a banner on a fence by one of, like, the basketball courts, and it said, beautification of Georgia Avenue. And, for me, I thought, oh, they're going to, like, make the parks nicer. They're going to plant trees and flowers. But ultimately I came to learn that that ultimately meant gentrification.
ELLIOTTAnd, again, I always bring up Union Arts, and also the space that was underneath it called Nomad Yard, because both of those spaces were a critical place for emerging artists and DJs, performers. And that was a space that was definitely affected by gentrification. And to drive by it and see what it is now, there's not really anything going on with that space. It's just, like, what happened? We could've still been using the space now. So, to see gentrification personally affect the space that I had been a part of was really sad, and it was hard to get through.
DELGADOYeah, I mean, a great story that we're telling in Summerhouse is about a clothing swap called Revel In It. And so that's a clothing swap that started up on Georgia Avenue. In the Petworth area, they had some really early swaps out that way. And as they tried to grow the organization, they started traveling around the city. And, you know, of course, people loved it. People loved getting the chance to change out their wardrobes, to experiment with gender and appearance and things like that.
DELGADOAnd so I think about that a lot. You know, if, you know, that's a space that's kind of a neighborhood where the county club is out there. That was the first venue for this clothing swap. We really need to use community spaces, these community-oriented businesses that can welcome creators who have an idea that's untested into their space, and then take it to the rest of the city.
DELGADOBut, you know, if we lose that, if we fill the city with expensive apartment buildings, with lots of security, keeping people out, I don't know what will happen. It just feels like as those kinds of community-oriented businesses and spaces are threatened, we lose a lot more than just, you know, a fun bar to go to or a coffee shop. We're losing that whole network of the community that they build.
NNAMDITeta, you're in D.I.Y. publishing, as well, and edit your own zine called Buahzine. We'll talk about that very shortly, but first, what exactly is a zine and how vibrant is the zine-making scene around this area?
ALIMZines are basically, like, independently published publications. You can think of it, you know, something like a magazine, but it's something that, you know, a creator or a collective has published and put out into the world independently. And it can include, like, photography, comics, illustrations, just anything that an artist has created.
ALIMAnd the D.C. Zine Fest, which I tabled at recently, has been around -- it's going to go into its 10th year, I think, next year. So, it's been around for a while and it started out at a church in -- is it Columbia Heights? Yeah, St. Stevens, I believe.
NNAMDIYeah, yeah, a church in Columbia Heights right off 16th Street.
ALIMYeah, it started out there. Exactly, yeah. And it was, like, in a very small space. (laugh) And I just remember going there in 2017, and it was very hot but just -- it was amazing to see, like, all of these creators have their work out. And they create some really beautiful things. And, you know, support your independent local artists.
NNAMDIWhat is your publication, Buahzine, all about, and why did you start it?
ALIMSo bua means fruit in Indonesian, and I started it because I'm a person of Indonesian heritage. And so Indonesia is the fourth most populace country in the world but if you ask anyone in the U.S., they don't really have an answer (laugh) for you, if you ask them what Indonesia is. So, I...
NNAMDIIt's the largest predominantly Muslim population in the world.
ALIMYeah, and people will say, oh, that's where Bali is, right? (laugh) But, you know, there's more to it than that. So, I wanted to create a space where people of Indonesian heritage could unpack and critique and celebrate their heritage.
NNAMDIFascinating. Michelle, do you have any favorite local zines?
DELGADOYeah, well, Buahzine is one of them. (laugh) We're Kickstarting Summerhouse right now and the zine that we're selling through our Kickstarter, there's going to be a Q and A with Teta. So, big fan of her zine. Yeah, I'm trying to think, off the top of my head. There's so many that I read, and then I am completely blanking, of course. But I would just have to...
NNAMDIThis is a good thing, because we're almost out of time. (laugh) So, Tamie, you mentioned being interested in intersections of the arts and hard sciences. There's a Prince Georges County-based zine that combines both. What is FELT Zine?
ELLIOTTWell, FELT Zine, just for clarification, so they are digital art activists. So they combine the digital world with activism through the promotion that they mainly operate off of their Instagram. But they've been able to kind of put comedy behind some, kind of, serious topics. And that's one of the things that I really enjoy. And, yes, they're called FELT Zine, and there's this guy, his name is Dev, and there's another guy named Mark. Dev is from the PG County area, and Mark is from California. But they collaborated together to create FELT Zine.
NNAMDIAnd Noel in Washington, D.C. Noel, you get the last word. You have about 30 seconds.
NOELHi, everyone. Hi, Tomiyeyo, I’m a big fan of your work. So, I’m a visual artist, in a sense, with interior design. My business is In Parallel by Design (sounds like). But I was calling in from the DJ front, and I want to encourage the DC DJs to get a little more experimental, like, to treat a little more rooms like a listening room.
NOELLike, Sunday night, I was at Service Bar, and the DJ was so rocking, like, (word?) mixing up some other stuff. And I have the privilege of already knowing that type of music, but, I'm telling you, even if you don't know these artists, it's just like a rollercoaster for your ear. And it just takes you to another place. So, I encourage DJs to kind of like give us a little more credit as a D.C. audience, get a little bit more -- a little deeper, a little edgier. You know, take us there a little bit more with the music, because I have a huge craving for it. Like, when I go to Europe, when I go to Africa, the DJs are...
NNAMDIAll right, that's it. We're just about out of time. Noel, thank you very much for your call. Michelle Delgado is a freelance writer, founder and editor of Summerhouse, a new digital magazine. Michelle, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITeta Alim is a freelance writer and music journalist, founder and editor-in-chief of Buahzine. Thank you for joining us.
ALIMThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Tamie Elliott, aka DJ Tomiyeyo is DJ, STEAM enthusiast, artist manager, creator of the “Occupying Space” radio show. Thank you for joining us.
ELLIOTTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIThis conversation about the underground arts and culture scene in D.C. was produced by Mark Gunnery. And our update on the District's Safe Passage Initiative was produced by Cydney Grannan and Mauna Kashfi. Coming up tomorrow, we'll find out why domestic workers in D.C. aren't protected by local antidiscrimination policy, and what advocates are doing to change that. Plus, we'll have a preview of this year's National Book Festival. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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